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Originally published Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 4:01 PM

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The Aughts for naught, a consensus

Americans found something to agree on: The past decade added up to a big zero.

AS the Decade with No Name expires, the Pew Research Center says the American public rates it the worst decade in 50 years.

With ample cause.

It was the decade with a stock-market collapse at both ends, implosions on Wall Street and at Washington Mutual; the decade that started with a false alarm — Y2K — and followed with a real one, 9/11. It was a decade of open-ended foreign wars, vast public spending and federal bailouts of too-big-to-fail cynicism.

No doubt someone will write a book of the Ohs, the Aughts, or whatever the name that finally sticks to the decade now being zeroed out. Such a book will not have the same lighthearted quality as Frederick Lewis Allen's classic of the Jazz Age, "Only Yesterday," but there ought to be some things in it more redeeming than reality TV and tattoos.

It was the decade of the first African-American president and expanding gay rights; of smoke-free restaurants and bars; of reusable shopping bags, bicycle commuters and hybrid cars. For some, the list is a record of achievement. Others might recite the litany with a sneer.

The decade experienced a flourishing of e-mail, cellphones, texting, social networking, BlackBerrys and iPhones; of debit cards; of broadband Internet and flat-screen televisions. All the devices of our consumer desires. More people obsessed about their credit score than their cholesterol count.

It was generally a safe time to be alive in the United States. National crime statistics were down, though Puget Sound suffered grave assaults on law enforcement as the decade closed out.

There was no widespread carnage from seemingly annual epidemics. Instead the nation, indeed the world, suffered a global financial contagion that robbed people of their homes, savings and livelihoods.

Record bank failures and mortgage foreclosures dashed a hubris inflamed by lies, deceit and epic greed. A rapacious Wall Street without legal or moral inhibitions invented new ways to steal money, as politicians idled in the getaway car.

Depression-era protections undone by Congress were mercilessly exploited. Now in the midst of the economic wreckage, elected officials have done nothing with lessons learned to prevent another raid on the treasury.

Stock market returns and employee wages were stagnant. People flipped houses in pursuit of a quick profit, raided their home equity and spurned plain vanilla savings. By 2009, food-stamp applications soared.

The decade limped to a close with two foreign wars that cost the nation international respect along with the precious blood and collateralized treasure of American taxpayers. The grievous tally of lost sons and daughters stands beside a financial debt whose depth and breadth are intentionally obscured.

The relief felt after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War was replaced by an amorphous threat wearing the mask of terrorism. No longer was it foreign leaders saying "We will bury you." The threats came from criminals hiding in caves and national leaders flashing amber lights.

We fear these threats because transnational enemies without borders demonstrated they can hurt us, physically and emotionally.

The decade comes to a gloomy close. The popular assessment rings true.

Here is to the Tens — and a brighter future.

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